Should I quit, and if so, now or later?
March 1, 2015 4:23 PM   Subscribe

I recently took a job, and I think it was a mistake. My new boss is a horrible, moody manager and mistreats me. And I feel grossly unqualified and hate the type of work. But I'm afraid I'm just a quitter and letting my emotions get the better of me.

Five weeks ago I accepted a job offer for my first full-time, permanent job in 19 years. During that time I had been raising children, suffering from severe depression that prevented me from finding or succeeding at work, and the last two years finishing my bachelors. My fantasy has been to work in a non-profit organization as a project or program manager. But on paper I'm not sure I seem qualified, and I think it will be a very hard sell to get the kind of work I want. The work I did in the six years before returning to school was contract work, often part-time, doing bookkeeping or as an accounting assistant. After I graduated in December, I decided to look for work in accounting and not in non-profits for two different reasons: I would surely make less money working for a non-profit, and I felt a real lack of confidence that I would be able to find a job that wasn’t at assistant-level. I told myself that working in accounting for a regular for-profit company, making more money, was more meaningful at this time in my life than the charitable mission of my employer.

I have no formal training in accounting. The contract jobs were all clerk-level and didn’t really demand an understanding of basic accounting principles, but just that I pay the bills or balance the bank accounts or whatever. In addition to a couple of my temp supervisors explaining some of these principles to me, I also spent some time trying to teach myself more about accounting. Truthfully, it’s evaded me. I am an intelligent person and there are many skills and ideas I have been able to pick up easily (I was very successful in my classes), but not accounting. This new job is doing accounts payable, but the hiring manager told me she wants me to grow in the position. My thought was that I would work and learn new stuff and in a couple of years I could approach the non-profit job idea again, using accounting skills as my point of entry. I also felt pretty competent doing basic accounts payable, having spent approximately a year between 2 different organizations, doing it at a high volume. However, I always worked with accountants who made the decisions about what and when to pay and who also did all the actual general ledger and real accounting stuff.

But in the four weeks I’ve been working, whenever my boss or anyone else talks to me at all about things like journal entries to balance out the payables and other tasks that demand an understanding of accounting principles I panic. And I remember that I felt that same panic and inability to understand and learn several times in the past in contract positions. Not only do I feel utterly unable to comprehend this stuff, I desperately don’t WANT to understand it. I want to run away. During my week and a half training period with my predecessor (who has left the organization), my lack of understanding about the larger accounting concepts came up. I explained that the manager had addressed only accounts payable work in my interview, and I hoped she didn’t expect more from me at this point. My predecessor checked in with my boss to confirm this. But since then, a few times every day my boss has talked to me about tasks beyond accounts payable which I haven’t understood. I don’t understand what she’s talking about and feel like an idiot. She has seemed really exasperated with me. In addition, during the time I was being trained, my predecessor, who had been there for a year, talked about what a bad manager our boss was: moody, unavailable, unsupportive, and bad-tempered.

My first day solo, first thing in the morning when I approached my boss with a question (not a question about accounting, but something specific about paying a particular invoice), she told me not to ask her any questions today, that she had no time. And she closed her door for the rest of the day. I tried to do my work as best I understood it, putting aside everything I needed help with. I approached her cautiously the next morning with my questions, and she rolled her eyes, threw herself back in her chair, and gustily sighed in impatience. As I asked questions she shouted at me that I needed to get clarification on these things (which I was attempting by asking for help). On day 2 she came to my desk and shouted at me, saying I was taking too long and hadn’t made enough progress. The rest of the week, she was behind closed doors for most of each day and told me she was unavailable. The following week she was more relaxed and chatty and chummy with me, though still behind closed doors much of the time, and still annoyed some of the time I asked questions. There’s no one else who knows how to do this job, so I can’t ask anyone else for help.

I want to leave. I hate my boss and I hate accounting and realize now that it’s not the work I want to do. The money is much better than I could find otherwise, I feel quite certain. But I’ve been crying every day and feeling huge anxiety and panic. I feel so extremely stupid and incompetent. And I’m so embarrassed because I fooled myself about what I really wanted to do. I had been thinking that I’d stay while I look for something else, but this feels impossible. As a new employee, I feel like my boss would just be pissed off if I asked for any time off for interviews (without telling her the real reason, of course). It could take a very long time to find another job; I wouldn't be surprised if it took 6 months or even a year. Also, I was hired through a staffing agency and they paid a lot for the service. I assume there’s some kind of arrangement where they get a refund if it doesn’t work out and I leave within a certain period; will they have to eat that fee if I leave after a certain point? I feel bad enough about leaving that I’d like to try to mitigate the employer’s expense and inconvenience if I can. Am I just trying to justify quitting? Am I taking the easy way out because I’m uncomfortable?
posted by primate moon to Work & Money (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's not worth it. Get out ASAP. I worked a mind- and body-destroying job for 7 years and it almost killed me in the end. I'm SO MUCH HAPPIER now.
posted by harrietthespy at 4:26 PM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

Your "superiors" (ahem) being annoyed at your needing some feedback from them in order to do your job properly is one of the best signs I know of that you are in a terminally impossible job environment. I've existed in such an environment before, where my choices were to either muddle through and probably do some things incorrectly, or to be yelled at for asking questions, so I know what it's like. Relevantly, that company went out of business soon after I left.

The expression "DTMFA" should exist for jobs, too, and yours is a job that fits that label.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 4:31 PM on March 1, 2015 [22 favorites]

The short answer is just, if you hate it, go, accounting doesn't suit everybody, it certainly doesn't suit me, and I got a graduate degree in it. The people who get into it tend to be--well, not great with people? So "taking out your stress on your subordinates" is a thing that I've run into with multiple unrelated employers in a way I haven't seen in other industries.

Also, I was hired through a staffing agency and they paid a lot for the service. I assume there’s some kind of arrangement where they get a refund if it doesn’t work out and I leave within a certain period; will they have to eat that fee if I leave after a certain point?

Usually it's a fairly long thing, like 3-6 months. They might not be paying anything up front at all; many staffing agencies just tack on 50% or something to what you get paid, and the company is out the excess if you leave early, but on the other hand they've only been paying that much for a brief period of time. Don't worry about it.

My only caveat, though...

But in the four weeks I’ve been working, whenever my boss or anyone else talks to me at all about things like journal entries to balance out the payables and other tasks that demand an understanding of accounting principles I panic. And I remember that I felt that same panic and inability to understand and learn several times in the past in contract positions. Not only do I feel utterly unable to comprehend this stuff, I desperately don’t WANT to understand it. I want to run away.

Have you talked to a doctor about this? Work-related panic attacks are a thing and I used to get them a lot. I needed medication and it improved substantially after that. Sometimes the jobs were still cruddy, but getting treatment for your anxiety can give you a clearer head about what to do next.
posted by Sequence at 4:41 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

You hate the job and you don't feel qualified. If the company hated YOU and thought YOU were unqualified they'd fire you in an instant. Quit with no remorse.
posted by that's how you get ants at 4:46 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

It is not your fault that the job asked for the basic level accounting payable and then expected you to do more than you were qualified to do without the training to do it. I"m so sorry that this has undermined your self-confidence - you were probably right that if the job had been using the skills you already had, you would have been able to do it competently.

You are not the only person to have trouble with this boss - that means that there is a big part of this that is her fault, not yours. Don't take 100% of the responsibility for something that you only had small share in.

If you aren't working out the company will fire you without hesitation. Do not worry about their expense and inconvenience - it is not part of the expectation and they haven't earned it.

I'm guessing that you are still struggling with depression - there is so much hopelessness in your post - that things couldn't possibly work out of you when you don't know at all. Leaving this job gives you chance to find the one that will be a good fit for you. Staying just undermines your own mental health. In the meanwhile, do what you can to get support - psychological (therapy, medication, self-help books for depression) and emotional (friends and family, taking care of yourself) In particular, you might also want to find a job search support group - they can give you some more tools plus emotional support for the tough parts of looking for a new job. Things can be so much better than they are now.

Your first try didn't work. It's not hopeless, you just need to go onto the next thing until you find the right match. Good luck!!
posted by metahawk at 4:48 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you're leaning towards quitting anyway, could try being candid with your manager about how her behavior is affecting your ability to do your job? This worked for a friend of mine whose boss had lost several good assistants because of her bullying behavior. My friend tendered her resignation in person, and when her boss asked why she was leaving, my friend (figuring she had nothing to lose) told her, calmly, "I'm leaving because you don't give me enough information to do tasks the way you want them done, then you get angry with me for not reading your mind. I know I'm a good worker and a smart person, and I'm tired of being treated like I'm incompetent." Her boss, whose employees had all been too scared of her to be that candid, was intensely apologetic, promised to do better (and DID do better), and made it worth my friend's while to stay on for another several months. This may not work for you, but if things are as bad as you say and you don't desperately need this job or the money it pays, why not give it a shot?

I'm sorry you're in this position. I've been in similar situations (some of which I stuck out for a while, and others I exited swiftly), and they're always their own special kind of hell when you're in them. Whatever you decide to do, I wish you the best of luck. I hope the next job you land is a much better fit.
posted by Owlcat at 5:01 PM on March 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

I wouldn't quit. In my experience with anxiety, I often have thought my job was terrible, I was bad at it, etc. But after a couple of months I was much more settled and competent. And I had a job, which I needed in order to feed myself. That's not something to give up lightly. You might not want to learn accounting but it won't hurt you to learn new things and expand your skillset.

I say give it long enough that you'd get unemployment if you got fired. And try to be okay with the fact that it's not exactly what you want to do. You're not perfect, that's okay too.

And yes, it sounds like you could use help with your anxiety! No shame in that.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:30 PM on March 1, 2015 [11 favorites]

I have two thoughts here.

Number one, is I think you are taking it personally that your boss is moody and kind of rude. Your boss was in a bad mood for reasons that didn't have anything to do with you. And it's not pleasant to deal with, but the more you understand it's her problem and not yours, the better off you will be. This is a mental thing and if you can feel up to tackling a challenge instead of running away, you'll do infinitely better. As a manager, I'd have a lot more respect for someone who seems to genuinely try to make progress and handle challenges than someone who just tells me they can't do it. It's ok if they can't do it, but they should make a genuine effort to try first. Sometimes you might surprise yourself and succeed when you didn't think you could if you start expecting yourself to come up with the answers.

Number two, you should think about your possible paths here. Last time I had a job that I could tell wasn't working out, I stayed for several more months. My only regret was not quitting right away when I had other potential jobs I could've left for. I knew it was going to be a bad fit, but I thought quitting so early would've looked bad. In actuality, staying and doing a horrible job ended up being worse. I became miserable and couldn't do a good job, and I suspect that I damaged my reputation by seeming like a bad worker because people at that organization were connected to others in my field outside the organization. At least if I had quit earlier, I just would've been someone who was good, but left the office hanging, which I would've rather had.

Since you care about working in the non-profit world and this is for-profit, I suspect this situation described in the above paragraph doesn't necessarily apply to you. If it doesn't, you may actually be better off staying and trying to actually learn more about accounting. I get the sense you're not trying to learn, or feeling like you can. You're just feeling overwhelmed. Someone at your organization or in your department can help you with some of your questions. Some you will answer if you give yourself time to work through it rather than immediately looking for someone to ask. I feel like the problem here is more of one about mentality, and not the job. If you want to get another job in the corporate world, I'd look immediately, but this is a tricky situation.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:36 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ugh, just leave. Give notice if you feel you have to, and you can let the agency know if you feel nice, but it's the company's fee to pay, and not your fault if they mismatched you at this job.

Find a new agency and look at temp-to-perm jobs, so you can try on new companies with an 8-week trial. Or even do temp work for a while, to give yourself and idea of what you do like. I have had some accounting jobs that weren't bad (just boring). Some places actually do train their employees, and if you're a temp, they often give you easy tasks to do to start.

This just sounds like hell. If it were just a learning curve, I'd say stick with it a while longer, but with the boss, nope.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:49 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

First question: can you leave? Ie, how much do you need the money?

If leaving is an option, you might want to confront your boss about getting some training for the job you're supposed to be doing.

And if you calm down enough to be able to talk to her about it constructively, you may wish to bring up with your boss that she needs to be open to answering your questions if you are to get any work done. Her behavior up to this point has been highly unprofessional.

If none of this works, then your best bet is to hang in there and try your best until they fire you, in which case you should apply for unemployment insurance. (Or, if they are unhappy with you, perhaps see if you can negotiate a speedy lay-off where they agree not to contest your app for unemployment insurance.

Have you considered that this company paid a premium fee to acquire you because they've been having trouble finding someone for the position.

Good luck with this. In short, from your description, I do not believe you are simply looking for excuses to quit. I think your job and especially your boss just suck.
posted by doctor tough love at 12:17 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Did you find an answer? Sounds like this is more the employer's mistake than yours. You've got incredible value to offer and the ability to learn this stuff if you'd like. But it'll take time, obviously. The internet provides answers to almost all of these questions.

Wish you luck. Look forward to hearing what you've decided.
posted by Thaddeus Rex at 12:09 PM on April 4, 2015

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